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Legislative and Judicial History of California CCW

Many people continue to be confused about what the CCW is, and weather or not a civilian can obtain a CCW in California.  This web page, which is updated as new information becomes available is designed to answer many of those questions.

What is a CCW?

The CCW is a legal device that exempts the holder from specific firearms laws for specific weapons.  Typically, a legally armed citizen is prohibited from carrying their firearm outside of their home unless under very unique situations.  Transporting the firearm to the range must be done under legally controlled methods.  (i.e.. in a locked container, free from ammunition, away from the driver of the vehicle, etc.)  Under most circumstances the owner of the firearm cannot carry it loaded on their person outside their home... again, there are specific locations and circumstances where this does not a apply... but as a general rule, most people understand that they are not allowed to carry a loaded gun outside their home.

The State of California (as well as the other 50 states) have a legal mechanism that allows specific individuals to be exempt from that law.  In most jurisdictions this device is known as a Concealed Carry Weapons permit... or CCW.

Traditionally, in states that were considered "Anti-gun" the issuance of a CCW permit was heavily regulated to the point of being essentially impossible to get.  Many believe that, based on the political climate of California this is still the case. 

Shall Issue, and May Issue

The Sheriff of each jurisdiction is the individual responsible for the issuance of a CCW permit.  Many states have adopted a "Shall Issue" policy.  This puts the burden of proof on the sheriff to deny an applicant.  Essentially stating that unless the Sheriff can show cause as to why a citizen who is legally entitled to own a firearm should not be allowed to carry that firearm they MUST issue a permit.

"May Issue" places the burden on the applicant.  They must show "Good Cause" as to why they feel they need the permit.  If the Sheriff agrees they have met this arbitrary burden then the sheriff may issue the permit.  As a practical matter sheriffs that are "anti-gun" deny just about every permit, while sheriffs that are "pro-gun" tend to issue most permits.

The Heller Decision

In 2008 the United States Supreme Court issued a decision in the District of Columbia v. Heller.  That decision affirmed that the right to bear arms recognized in the Second Amendment is a "Fundamental" right.  As a fundamental right it was now "incorporated" to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment.  For the state to deny this right to a citizen they must prove a compelling state interest, and there can be no less restrictive alternatives.  This is typically an insurmountable hurdle for the state to overcome.  

Peruta v. San Diego

Following the issuance of Heller a San Diego resident named Peruta attempted to obtain a CCW from the Sheriff of San Diego.  San Diego has had a very stringent CCW issuance policy, and was denied.  He sued and eventually his case made its way to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.  On February 15th 2014 A three judge panel ruled in Peruta's favor finding that the denial of a permit for insufficient "good cause" denied Peruta his fundamental rights.  This ruling effectively through judicial fiat made California a "Shall Issue" state.  

Immediately the ruling was stayed pending a possible request of an En Banc hearing by the San Diego Sheriff.  (An En Banc hearing is a request that the entire 9th Circuit justices hear the case again, instead of simply relying on the three judge panel.)

Even though the case had been stayed, the Orange County Sheriff, as well as Ventura, and a handful of smaller county Sheriffs agreed publicly to abide by the Peruta ruling.  Effectively turning their jurisdictions into Shall Issue counties.

This decision has run contrary to the political objectives of the current California Attorney General.  Attorney General Kamala Harris had been asked to be a party to this law suit during the lower court proceedings.  She refused to participate.

Following the reversal of the lower court by the 9th Circuit and during the stay, Ms. Harris attempted to file a Motion for Intervenor to now become a party to the law suit.  Her argument being that this decision fundamentally changes the licensing scheme and she should have the opportunity to plead to a continuation of the existing scheme.  

On November 12, 2014 the Appellate Court ruled against her Motion for Intervenor, stating that she should have become a party to the law suit earlier.  

There is still a possibility that the court could rule Sua Sponte to revisit the case En Banc... however the likelihood of that becomes less and less with each passing day.

Update: 6/13/16

The 9th Circuit decided to hear the Peruta case En Banc and issued their decision.  They overturned the 3 judge panel and found that the Second Amendment does not guarantee a right to bear arms outside the home.  This decision has national implications.  From the stand point of Orange County residents nothing has really changed.  The sheriff has taken a pro-ccw issuance stance with the current number of CCW permits issued as of this writing at 9,200.  The Sheriffs office has further stated that they fully intend to continue with CCW issuance.  Though the sheriff now requires "good cause".... the standard of "good cause" is a fairly easy burden for a citizen to overcome.

CCW Issuance in Other Jurisdictions in California

Many jurisdictions... including San Diego, continue to ignore the Peruta decision, claiming it to be unsettled law.  This is despite the fact that multiple court decisions have now been successfully adjudicated using Peruta as authority.  Those that reside in in jurisdictions that are refusing to abide by Peruta must wait for a plaintiff to sue in lower court for a Writ of Mandamus to compel their Sheriff to issue a permit.  Alternatively, there exists the real possibility, that there maybe a Supreme Court case in the near future that is adjudicates clarifying the right to carry a gun outside the home.  There is also the possibility of a federal bill granting national reciprocity.

National Reciprocity

Some states grant CCW permits to non-residents.  California does not recognize any other states CCW permits as being valid in California.  (This is essentially similar to California not recognizing the the validity of a Nevada drivers license in California, and arresting a Nevada driver for driving without a valid license).  The fact that not all states recognize out of State CCW permits has created confusion and heartache among those that wandered into states without realizing that they were not licensed to carry there.  A movement has grown for a federal bill demanding national reciprocity.  If you have a CCW in one state, all states must recognize it.  Though this bill has passed in the House of Representatives there was little chance of it passing in the Senate.... until now.  The recent elections have changed the balance of power.

If National Reciprocity becomes law than California MUST recognize all out of state CCW's.  That means a resident of Los Angeles who live under a sheriff not willing to grant a CCW can apply and receive a CCW from Utah where they will grant a CCW.  Armed with that CCW, California must recognize it and give it full faith and credit.

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